Commission and Promise
A sermon preached by Pastor Ken Carrothers on May 10, 2020
With all that had happened no one could blame the disciples for assuming that everything was over. Their call and commitment could have all ended on that fateful Friday, when the one to whom they had left everything to follow was murdered. Even in the face of the resurrection, there did not have to be an understanding that what began three years earlier would continue. The trauma of the crucifixion of their teacher, friend and messiah had sent the disciples scattering in fear and grief. And as much as Jesus had tried to prepare them for what was to come, the disciples weren’t ready for life and work without him. Everything could have really been over on that Friday.
Everything could have been over as the fake news the elders and priests put out took hold of the people. As the disciples drank their first cup of coffee on Monday morning and read the newspaper story about Jesus’ disciples stealing his body away in the night, it could have all been over. As the twelve gathered in the upper room it could have digressed to finger pointing and accusations.
It really could have been over, but it wasn’t. Something happened after the disciples received the testimony of the women. “He’s not dead. He’s alive!” the women said. “Go and meet him in Galilee” and for some reason they did.
Perhaps it was out of hope. Perhaps it was the desire to just do something. Or perhaps it was because they remembered that God has a way of showing up in the mountains. God met Moses at the back side of Mount Horeb. God met Elijah at Mount Carmel. And today when the disciples gathered at Mount Galilee, the resurrected Christ, the living Lord, Jesus, met the disciples there.
And if things weren’t interesting enough at that point, then they really get going. With Jesus before them, the disciples worshipped him; but some doubted. The worship makes sense, the doubt perhaps not as much. After all, it is Jesus standing before them. What is to doubt?Now we should note the doubt in this story is different than the doubt which surrounded Thomas in John’s Gospel. Whereas Thomas’ doubt would be defined as unbelief, the word translated doubt in this case is more like waffling. It is a hedging a bet. It is a movement between yes and no. And I find it both interesting and understandable.
Because not only could everything have been over — likely for some of them it may already have been. Some may have already made the move in their mind to go back and pick up the nets they dropped to follow Jesus. And yet, then Jesus is standing before them. And if Jesus is before them, then the life they planned to return to was toast, and they had to wonder what they were being called back into? It is a lot of movement — a lot of upheaval — a lot of change — in a very short time. And so waffling feels understandable.
But Jesus not wanting to waste any time immediately gives the disciples their mission statement. In essence Jesus says, “It’s not over. I know you don’t understand what’s happened. I know you don’t understand what is happening right now. I know you don’t understand what’s going to happen. But know this: It’s not over! Go, and disciple the nations!” Jesus commanded the disciples into action — to move beyond where they were standing.
Jesus’ command is a reminder to us to not get stuck in where we’ve been. Don’t get stuck in where we think we are, but dare to move out. Too often, the church has been willing to settle for the status quo. We’ve got stuck in where we’ve been or we think that what God is doing in our midst is all that God is ever going to do. And today it is shown int he temptation to say, “we just need to get back to what we had.” But Jesus says, “not so fast. Go! Move from where you are. Go out and be about the business of discipling the nations.”
Now discipling is not synonymous with recruitment for the church rolls. It is not the same thing as building up church membership. It is not a numbers game of how many, but rather is taking time to enter into relationship with others in a way that is deeper than superficial friendship. It is daring to share with others the life-giving, death-defying relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ.
Also please do not misunderstand this as misplaced evangelism. The church has a terrible history of “making disciples” by means that betray the one they claim to follow. The church has claimed to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ into communities and yet what we have really done is carry our own political and cultural biases that have led to cultural alienation and destruction. If we think Jesus’ commission has been lived out by what has been done to aboriginal peoples around the world, we are no where near that mountain in Galilee. Jesus’ call to disciple nations is not a call to make others just like us, but rather calls us to extend an invitation that others might know who they are in Jesus Christ and become fully liberated in that relationship. It is an invitation to move beyond our own narrow world view and to encounter a whole world that Jesus came that they might live life and live it abundantly.
And that brings us to us. COVID-19 can make us fear that it is all over. Life will not be the same on the other side. In fact, life has changed already. It can certainly feel like we don’t have time to disciple anyone between trying to keep our kids engaged in school work, trying to keep our family safe, shopping at odd hours, working to stay connected to those we love through technology, sitting in our home offices away from co-workers we enjoy, only seeing people through a screen — yep, it can seem like life as we know it is all over.
And yet God meets us here too. God shows up in our lives as they are today. God shows up behind the closed door. God thwarts the fake news that God is not around. God beckons us to the metaphorical mountain and gives us the same commission. To go and share God’s grace. To go and offer relationship. The unavoidable truth is that as Christians we are called to bear witness, to testify to the hope that is within us, to tell people about Jesus — to disciple the nations.
Now, this may scare some of us. But, take heart and listen closely. By the grace of God, you are able to share this Good News — you are able to disciples the nations — because you never do it on your own. Jesus ends his commission of the disciples in promise: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” Jesus is always with us, helping us and empowering us to share the good news. And always is always. So even when we are sheltering for safety, Jesus is with us — as face the difficult choices before us, Jesus is with us — as we disagree about when to begin, Jesus is with us — as we are separated from those we love, Jesus is with us — and calling us to disciple the nations.
For there is plenty of work to do. There are people all around us who need the love, forgiveness, grace, power, strength and comfort of God in Jesus Christ. It is as true today, as it was for the disciples. It is as true today, as it was before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on our lives. It is as true today, as it will be in the future. It’s not over.
It’s not complete, and it will not be until Jesus’ return. The magnitude of the work to which we have been called is bigger than we can imagine. It is bigger than our own understanding. But remember in the midst of this awesome challenge, in the midst of Jesus saying, “It’s not over,” Jesus offers promise: “I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
Jesus did not stay dead. Jesus is alive. Jesus is with us. It is not over. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.